A new edition of Boris Johnson: The Beast of Brexit is published today. The late Heathcote Williams composed his ‘study in depravity’ more than three years ago, when Johnson was still mayor of London: before the 2016 EU referendum, before Johnson’s careless talk condemned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to an Iranian jail cell, before the police were called to a domestic dispute at his girlfriend’s flat, before he said his hobby was making model buses out of old wine boxes, before he became prime minister. But Williams’s portrait is as true a likeness of its subject now as it was then.
‘Whitmanesque’ is how Colin Ward, writing in the LRB, described Heathcote Williams’s book Whale Nation (1988). Williams, who died on Saturday, was a difficult catch. We persisted for a time, trying to get him to write for the paper, then lost heart; gathered up our courage, only to fall back again in despair. There are just two pieces by Williams in the LRB archive. The first is a poem – though there isn’t much dolling up, and nothing conspicuously ‘poetic’ – which plays with the idea of wars as music festivals (‘The music was mainly percussive … There have been several attempts to get the show on the road again’). In the second, a review of Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, Williams follows the author and ‘his trusty snorkel’ on ‘a swimmer’s journey through Britain’.